The Acknowledgment Slide

If you are like most scientists, chances are that you will place the acknowledgment slide at the end of your presentation. But if you watch one of the Hollywood award events, or attend a Nobel laureate award presentation, chances are you will hear the acknowledgments at the very beginning of the acceptance speech. Why? Because the people you recognize as being part of your success are in the room, and if you fail to mention them as in “and others too many to mention”, chances are that the ones who are in the “too many” category will be miffed or downright offended.

In a scientific talk, the presenter acknowledges 1) the corporations which funded the research (they may have a representative in the room) and 2) the individuals who had a large part to play in the success of the research (their friends may be in the room). But where should the acknowledgments be? At the beginning or at the end of the presentation? On the title slide or on their own acknowledgment slide? And how long is the list of people/organizations recognized?

Let’s start with the first question: Where does one put the acknowledgment slide?

If you were to place it at the end, as in the scrolling credits of any movie, chances are the audience will have switched off or left the room by the time the credits roll; Or chances are you will go over time in your presentation and will have to skip the acknowledgment slide. Whichever way you look at it, the perspective is bleak. Take a clue from Hollywood. The great actors demand that their names be displayed AT THE BEGINNING of the movie for a duration and a font size that match their most excellent performance (and acting fee). Fortunately, your faceless research sponsors do not demand such status. And they will be quite happy to let you mention them through the use of a Logo – so you don’t have to remember their last name. Your collaborators, however, or those who helped you hit the mark, have a name, and a face. So you have a choice: use one or the other – but not both – and don’t add an aureole around your bosses’ heads, or add glow around their names. Acknowledgments are not an ego building or a sanctification thing. They serve two functions: 1) recognize and honor the work of your collaborators, and 2) establish credibility in you and your work. Think of it this way: why should prestigious donors partake of their money or the taxpayers’ money to fund you and your work if both you and your work are not worth it!

But how long is the list?

If you are like me, you love yet you hate these song request radio programs where popular songs are played only after a long list of thanks to the caring husband, the faultless children, the exquisite grandparents, the perfect neighbors, the pet parakeet, and the fire department and rescue squad – notwithstanding the radio host in the studio, the audio technician in the soundproof room, and the janitor  who cleans up the ashtrays and turns off the lights. Therefore, be brief and instead of mentioning individual names, use collective names to mention “many people” as in “our team”, or “our department”. A photo of the team flashed briefly does wonders to establish you as a team player, and an honest and fair scientist. Those mentioned by name in writing on the title slide are the co-authors of the paper you are presenting – and only them.

So where exactly do you place the acknowledgments?

Either with Logos and Names on the title slide, which tends to stay on the screen for a while at the beginning of the talk, or briefly and using photos, on the slide that follows the title slide.

Oh, and by the way… The BIG THANK YOU slide… Get rid of it! Don’t let the computer take over. You are the presenter.

By Jean-luc Lebrun


Photos: Flickr. Authors: image on top- Mangee

What can the scientist who presents learn from Santiago Ramon Y Cajal

By Jean-luc Lebrun

Santiago Ramon Y Cajal was a neurologist who shared with Golgi the nobel prize in 1906. In his excellent little book “Advice for a young investigator”, translated for MIT press by Neely and Larry Swanson, one finds some remarkable insights on the perfect scientist presenter host. In the preface to his second edition Cajal writes about scientists.

While not large, there is nevertheless a group of young enthusiasts who stay in constant communication about their ideas and feelings because of their love for science and desire to collaborate on the magnum opus of progress.

If I am to accept Cajal’s definition of true blue scientists, I cannot help but wonder where has the presenter’s enthusiasm gone? Where is the passion? Why let fear strap and padlock your passion in a straightjacket prior to delivering the scientific talk? Yes, the fear may be there, let it be. But then, be a Houdini presenter, deliver your passion, let its fire ignite interest in your work so that like-minded international colleagues from your audience desire to network with you. How do you do that? First and foremost, prior to climbing on the stage, recharge yourself with the excitement that ionized you when your working hypothesis was verified by your data. Then banish the thought of captivating minds with result outputs, because people do not celebrate outputs, they celebrate outcomes.

Nothing highlights the energetic personality of the investigator better, distinguishing him from the throng of automatons in science, than those discoveries where perseverance and logic get the upper hand over mechanics, where brain is paramount and material facilities are negligible.

Never miss a chance to present your current achievements in the context of your past work, to establish credibility through tenacity, to dazzle by the power and soundness of the thread of reasons sustaining your hypothesis, and to confound the big spenders with the frugality of your data needs because of the excellent representative and discrimination power of your data. Do not belittle or silence the story of your data if that story builds your credibility. Do not brush aside the history that led to your findings, if that history forged your expertise.